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The Global Compact’s controversy (1/4)

Updated: Jan 7, 2019

On December 19th, the Global Compact was adopted by the General Assembly with 152 votes in favour. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel, Poland, and the United States of America voted against. This does not come as a surprise as The United States decided to withdraw from the negotiations of the Global Compact since 2017 arguing that the approach was not compatible with US sovereignty. Until the adoption of the final draft of the document on July 11th 2018, no other State expressed their will to pull out from the agreement or raised concerns regarding the draft. Yet, it was not long before the first criticisms started to raise. The first country to announce that they would withdraw from the Global Compact was Hungary. But it was only with Austria’s announcement to leave the agreement during its EU presidency, that the idea that the Global Compact would hinder countries’ sovereignty on migration matters started to appear. Following Austria, Australia, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Israel, Chile, Ukraine, and Bulgaria said they would withdraw from the Global Compact. In addition, several countries required more time to take a decision, as in the case of Switzerland, Estonia and Italy.

Interestingly however, Austria, a strong figure of contestation of the Global Compact, ended up abstaining during voting. Several other countries that claimed they would withdraw from the Global Compact also abstained from voting. This was the case of Australia, Latvia, Chile, Bulgaria, Switzerland and Italy, with Estonia finally voting in favor. One can wonder though why several States have decided to pull out (or are still considering whether to join or not) after going through a lengthy negotiation process.

When analyzing the media and public debates we can underline four major arguments against the signature of the Global Compact that have to be debunked. They are directly related to four specific objectives of the Global Compact: 5. “Enhance availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration”, 13. “Use migration detention only as a measure of last resort and work towards alternatives”, 17. “Eliminate all forms of discrimination and promote evidence-based public discourse to shape perceptions of migration” and 21. “Cooperate in facilitating safe and dignified return and readmission, as well as sustainable reintegration”. This post will focus on the first argument, the loss of sovereignty over migration issues. Three other posts will follow, focusing respectively on the use of detention measures, the question of media and the promotion of independent, objective and quality information, and finally, on return and reintegration.

The main fear around the global compact is that countries would lose their sovereignty and be obliged to accept crowds of migrants into their territories without being able to control their own borders. This idea has quickly been reused and spread by right wings organizations, virulently condemning the Global Compact. In France, a fierce social media campaign was launched criticizing President Macron of “selling the country” to the UN by signing the said agreement.

Marine Le Pen, front-runner of the "Rassemblement National", a far-right party, called the signature of the global compact an "act of treason". Lydia Guirous, from “Les Républicains”, claimed that the Global Compact was promoting migration and that “it is up to the French to decide who enters in France” insinuating that with the Global Compact France would lose control on who enters and stays in the territory. In Switzerland, the Swiss People’s Party, a conservative party, followed the same rhetoric arguing that the pact is “incompatible with an independent management of immigration”. In addition, the raise of anti-migrant governments in Hungary, Italy and Poland fuelled populist discourses and the idea of migrants “invading” Europe after the conclusion of global compact.

(translation: On Monday 19 December 2018 Emmanuel Macron will sign in Marrakech “the Global Compact for migration”. The Global Compact will be very costly for tax payers. The global compact requires signatory countries to welcome the influx of immigrants coming from Africa, which has a high birth rate, and where demographic predictions show that tens of millions of Africans will be sent to Europe in the coming years).

However, these allegations could not be further from the truth. First and foremost because the Global Compact is a non-binding instrument. This means that it creates no legal obligations for the countries that are signing it. It is a document showing the willingness of countries to work towards a common goal (safe and orderly migration) leaving the different parties to decide on their own way and rhythm to reach this goal (if they ever decide to reach it). The decision on legal migration stays at the center of a country’s migration policy. When reading the text of the Global Compact we can see that several points have been included highlighting the fact that countries will keep full sovereignty over legal migration.

Point 7 of the preamble of the global compact says that “This Global Compact presents a non-legally binding, cooperative framework […] and upholds the sovereignty of States and their obligations under international law”. (emphasis here and below added). This point clearly outlines the fact that the document is non-legally binding and therefore that it cannot lead to any obligations for a State. The question of the sovereignty will be further emphasised in point 15 specifically on national sovereignty. It states that “the Global Compact reaffirms the sovereign right of States to determine their national migration policy and their prerogative to govern migration within their jurisdiction, in conformity with international law. Within their sovereign jurisdiction, States may distinguish between regular and irregular migration status, including as they determine their legislative and policy measures for the implementation of the Global Compact, taking into account different national realities, policies, priorities and requirements for entry, residence and work, in accordance with international law”. This point explains that each country will be able to define their own migration policies and laws. That each country will be able to decide on the conditions for entry, stay and work in their territory according to their own main concerns, context and policy orientations. Finally, point 27 reiterates the fact that border management will be done in the “respect [of] national sovereignty”.

The use by the far right of the legitimate fear of an out of control migration is not new and has proven in the past to be an effective tool of mobilization by populist groups. A clear counter-narrative and a better explanation of the tenants of the Global Compact to the public might have helped to alleviate the current of opt-outs. The UN Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for International Migration, Louise Arbour, told skeptical nations that "under international human rights law citizens of a country have the right to enter, stay and leave their country but they don't have a right to go anywhere else unless they seek asylum, or are authorized by another country to enter its territory". She adds that “[i]t is not correct to suggest it imposes obligations on Member States and infringes on their sovereignty”. Additionally, Charles Michel, the Prime Minister of Belgium faced turmoil in his own country for signing the Global Compact and even had to present his resignation. He argued that the Global Compact was “being misused by some political parties to spread disinformation”.

No matter what temporary consequences the present public debate on the Global Compact will have, it will not end the world-wide endeavour to regulate migration, since the necessity for comprehensive management will not disappear.

Author: Dr. Fanny Tittel-Mosser

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